Shibori tie-dye instructions: mokume

September 25, 2009


Japanese mokume (wood grain) shibori on silk (?habotai 8momme), black dye over grey background. 7″x8.5″. Source: Konjaku Antique Textiles, Gion, Kyoto. 7mm  between stitches.

Materials: Needle and thread; silk fabric; water sprayer; dye bath.

Instructions: 1. Double-thread needle. 2. Sew parallel lines (perhaps with the help of guidelines drawn with a water-soluble marker crayon or pen), a centimetre or 1/4″ apart, leaving a knot at one end and leaving a sufficient length of the thread at the other so you can tie a knot in it. If you don’t want the knot to show as a white dot in the finished product, leave both ends free – at least a couple of inches so you can tie a knot easily. Keep stitches as even as possible and as close together as possible (at least a centimetre or 1/4″ apart). Some variation in the length of stitches is permissible since this adds to the texture of the final “wood grain” appearance. 3. Carefully tighten each line down one side of the cloth, spraying with water to increase the tension in the cloth, knotting together the two free ends of each line. 4. Proceed down the other side of the cloth, pulling the threads tight  so the fabric concertinas up quite tightly and making sure the knot at the other end is holding sufficiently well and doesn’t slip through the fabric. 5. Thoroughly wet in water. 6. Add to dyebath. 7. Remove from dyebath and rinse in water. 8. Using a thread unpicker (and taking extreme care not to cut a whole in the silk fabric), remove the polyster threads. 9. Revive silk in water and vinegar. 10. Dry and iron.

Commentary. The instructions above are simplistic, but not misleading. It’s simple to get started, but as with all Japanese ‘slow fibre’ (a wonderful moniker invented by Y Wada) textiles, only achievable in all its glory after a great deal of painstaking practice. So let’s start from the top in more detail.

The textile illustrated above is doubtless a fragment of silk and the far right-hand side of the fabric would have been tucked away from view behind a hem – you can see the dots where the knots of the threads start. The silk is thin and fine, but with a little stiffness so more like habotai 8momme (not as stiff as 12momme). Yes, it can be done in cotton or wool or polyester, but you need a dye that’s appropriate to the fibre and above all, if it’s silk it’s probably redolent of Kyoto; see the Arimatsu Shibori DVD for techniques on cotton.

If new to shibori, you will need a small amount of silk fabric since this technique is very slow and you’ll probably want to see some quick results to assure yourself you’re on the right track. If new to sewing silk, steer clear of georgette or crepe-de-chine and go for something with a bit of stiff handle to it like habotai. You can try a running stitch freehand, in which case the lines will be wobbly and you can try it much wider than 1/4″ – try 1″ or 1.5″ for jumbo wood grain. The needle needs to be thin enough to leave a small hole; the thread can be strong polyster serge or sewing machine thread or something tough like Gutermann. The length of stitches can vary to create the wobbly, “worm”-like appearance of the pleats.

Habotai 8mm cloth, hopelessly unstraight parallel lines, polyester serger sewing thread, wetted after stitching, Sandolan burgundy red 6B dye, in a rolling boil for 15mins, 9″x3″: 


I’m particularly pleased that the burgundy/oxblood dye colour recalls the gromwell dye used in Tohoku (far north Honshu), as illustrated in the Kyoto Shoin book by Ando Hiroko.

Big thanks to workshop leader, Liz Gemmell. For more online information on mokume shibori, see,,, (all things shibori public group)., and Karen Brito’s blog Entwinements and her wonderful book “Shibori: creating color & texture on silk”.

 Mokumenui (“stitched mokume”) is covered in the stitching section of the Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori DVD. The fabric is of course cotton and I’m not sure to what extent the technique illustrated there can be adapted to silk, but the crisp lines of the ‘wood grain’ are obviously influenced by the use of “buffer” stitched fabrics at either end of the mokume stitching which create additional tension in the stitched fabric.

4 Responses to “Shibori tie-dye instructions: mokume”

  1. Rabiul Islam. Says:

    This is really really nice!!!!!! I like to do it for myself – at home.

  2. Shari Says:

    Can I use a machine to take a long basting stitch; it would save time. Does it have to be hand-stitched?

    • rodbyatt Says:

      Good question! Machining is of course possible, but you lose the “random” look of woodgrain, so the look becomes much more uniform. As with all shibori in the West, anything goes. The challenge for all of us in this fast-paced world (both in Japan and the West) is the concept of “slow textiles” and doing things by hand.

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